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James Strickler

Honorary Chairman

James C. Strickler, MD, Professor of Medicine and Community and Family Medicine Emeritus, graduated from Dartmouth College, Dartmouth Medical School, and the Cornell Medical College. He trained in internal medicine and physiology at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in NYC. From 1954-1956 he served as the independent medical officer aboard the USS Kenneth Whiting in the western Pacific. In 1958-59 he was the Chief Medical Resident at the New York Hospital. From 1959-62 he was a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Physiology and from 1962-67 served as Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Cornell Medical College. In 1967 he moved to Dartmouth as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs to plan, along with Dean Carlton Chapman, the transition from a two-year, basic medical science program to a full MD curriculum. He served as Dean of the Dartmouth Medical School from 1973-81 and sponsored the development of the Brown-Dartmouth MD Program. Following his deanship, he qualified in geriatrics and as a member of the faculty of the Dartmouth Medical School, specialized in the care of the elderly until 1996, when he retired from clinical practice.

After working with Cambodian refugees in Thailand in 1982, Dr. Strickler joined the Board of the International Rescue Committee. Along with Ambassador Winston Lord, he co-chaired the IRC Board from 1999-2004 and is now Chairman Emeritus and an Overseer of the IRC. As a member of the IRC Board he made over 35 trips to visit refugee programs in Asia, Africa, the Balkans, Central America and the Mid-East. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Global Health Council and is a former Chairman of the Board of the National Council for International Health.

Dr. Strickler continues to teach international health at the Dartmouth Medical School and since 2000 has coordinated the School’s extensive activities in Kosovo, which have included a continuous, bilateral, student exchange program with the School of Medicine at the University of Prishtina and three, sequential, USAID funded health programs to improve primary, antenatal and perinatal care throughout this former province of Yugoslavia. Dr. Strickler recently founded the Kosovo based Foundation for Healthy Mothers and Babies and was a charter member of the Board of Trustees. This foundation, now dissolved, has evolved into the nonprofit organization Action for Mothers and Children, and Dr. Strickler is the Honorary Chairman. His 14-year interests in Kosovo recently facilitated a new academic liaison between Dartmouth and the American University in Kosovo. In 2012 Kosovo President Jahjaga presented Dr. Strickler the Mother Teresa Medal and in 2013 the Albanian American Medical Society honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his humanitarian work in Kosovo.

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Richard Lukaj

Richard Lukaj is a founder and Managing Partner of The Bank Street Group LLC, a US registered Broker Dealer headquartered in the New York metropolitan area. Rich has over 20 years of investment banking experience and has executed hundreds of transactions over the course of his successful investment banking career, ranging from mergers and acquisitions, underwriting of debt, equity and derivative securities, restructurings, exclusive sales and other financial advisory mandates. He has broad experience in a variety of industries including Media, Communications, Technology, Consumer, Retailing, Energy, Aerospace, Specialty Finance, Real Estate and Natural Resources.

Richard has been recognized as a significant voice for economic development, stability and pro-democratic initiatives in Southeastern Europe. Mr. Lukaj was the Chairman of the National Albanian American Council (NAAC), the leading organization in the United States with offices in Washington and throughout the Balkans. He developed a reputation with diplomats in the US and abroad for pragmatic thinking and acting as a reliable bridge between the region and the international community. Mr. Lukaj was honored for his work by the Republic of Albania by being selected as the Honorary Consul to the United States and later confirmed by the U.S. Department of State.

Richard has also been active in philanthropic activities throughout the region, both as a significant donor personally and prolific fundraiser. He was a founder and currently serves as the Chairman of the A.U.K., which has partnered with the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Dartmouth University and other prominent educational institutions to deliver the highest quality accredited private education in Southeastern Europe. Richard was also a founder of the Hope Fellowship program, an organization partnered with USAID which provides leadership training for women of the Balkans and arranges for executive exchange programs with the largest corporations and governmental and non-governmental agencies of the United States. He also led the Hands of Hope campaign which targeted multi-year fundraising initiatives which raised funds and collaborated with organizations such as Mercy Corps., AmeriCares and many others to transform the standard of living for orphans and young people in the region. More recently, hejoined in founding the Foundation for Healthy Mothers and Babies in Kosova in honor of his late daughter Adelina, which delivered over $500,000 in medical essential medical equipment and supplies to Kosova this year alone. Richard has also been a founder and/or supporter of APEN (Albanian Professional and Entrepreneurs Network), “Motrat Qiriazi”, the leading Albanian women’s organization, the Albanian American Cultural Foundation, the Albanian American National Organization and numerous other Albanian regional, religious, educational and cultural institutions.

In addition to his advocacy and philanthropic activities, Richard established the Lukaj Foundation and has been extremely active in promoting investment in the region and has led numerous business/investor delegations related to potential investments in the area. He has contributed to the development of investor conferences in the US and Europe related to potential investments in the Balkans, particularly focused on Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. Richard also led delegation visits by various congressional groups, OSCE observation teams, international election monitors, various ambassadors and orchestrated and participated in the visits of President William J. Clinton and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other such dignitaries to the region.
Richard has personally known and interacted with many of the pertinent leaders of Albania since the fall of Communism and is seen as a non-partisan activist for Albania and Albanian affairs. He is also well known among the international entities that are engaged in the region, particularly the U.S. embassies in the region, UN, USAID, EBRD, the World Bank/IFC and NATO representatives in the area.

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Philip Sigwart

Honorary Trustee

Philip has spent most of his career working in international development finance with a focus on Micro and SME banking. He is currently based in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo where he works in a senior management position for Equity Group Holdings (Kenya). Prior to that, he was CEO of ProCredit Bank Kosovo, the leading bank in Kosovo, and Chairman of the Kosovo Banking Association. Before that, he was CEO of ProCredit Bank in Georgia. He started his career with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Russia.

During his time in Kosovo, Philip helped found the Kosovo based Foundation for Healthy Mothers and Babies and was acting Chairman of the Board of Trustees. This foundation, now dissolved, has evolved into the non-profit organization Action for Mothers and Children.

Philip has a Bachelor and a Master’s degree in Economics from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

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Elia Zaharia

Honorary Trustee

Elia is the daughter of George Zaharia and Yllka Muji. Yllka Muji is the famous Albanian actress who was given the title of “Maestro of Arts” in recognition of her career in the National theatre.

Elia Zaharia is the fiancée of Prince Leka of Albania. She graduated from the St. Denis University in Paris, in theatre. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Elia is very interested in the film industry, taking part in a number of short script films in France, whilst supporting her brothers projects in Albanian. From a young age Elia has shown vocal talent for light Albanian Music. From 1999 until 2002 Elia took part in a successful girls group called “Spirit Voice”, giving her the opportunity to take part in concerts throughout the Albanian region, including war torn Kosova, where the group was very active in supporting the humanitarian aid activities.

Elia is an actress who lived in the beautiful city of Paris for 8 years, and parallel studies, she was an actress of the Theatre of Paris in several plays. She has also studied in “Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Bordeaux” in Bordo, France from 2003-2005, and later in “Cours Florent” until 2007.

Besides her passion for theatre, Elia is also a singer and philanthropist and will soon be crowned as Princess of Albania.

Since 2010, Elia lives in Tirana, Albania and is engaged in many theatre projects as well as her newly founded Foundation. Being member of the Royal Family of Albania, Elia spends a lot of time on the Royal Family activities as well.

Elia is the President of Queen Geraldine Foundation whose purpose is to provide humanitarian support to families in poverty, orphans and children of all social strata of the population in need.

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Ardiana Bunjaku

Chair of the Board

Ardiana Bunjaku is the Executive Director of Society of Certified Accountants and Auditors of Kosovo -SCAAK, where, in addition to her other accomplishments, in last twelve years she was part of development of accountancy profession and professional education in Kosovo. She worked with the Ministry of Finance and the World Bank in the introduction of a diploma course for public sector accountants in Kosovo. She has also been appointed by the Government of Kosovo to several powerful committees that provide oversight in key sectors relevant to the development of Kosovo’s economy, including the Kosovo Development Strategy Committee, the Kosovo National Qualification Framework working group and the Advisory Committee to the Tax Administration Authority. Additionally, she is involved in reforming higher education in accounting and auditing at the University of Prishtina. Ms. Bunjaku served as a member of quality assurance committee in Kosovo Board for Standards and Financial Reporting and a for two mandates she served as a board member of the American Chamber of Commerce.

Ardiana extensively has promoted institutional cooperation for development of accountancy profession in public and private sector which has led to the unique cooperation between professional accountancy (SCAAK) organization and supreme audit institution (OAG in Kosovo) to develop public sector auditor certification.

Ardiana is a member of the International Federation of Accountants – IFAC Professional Accountancy Organization Development Committee since January 2011.

In 2013 she was elected on the Executive Board of the Mediterranean Federation of Accounting Experts – FCM .

Ardiana is board member and a member of audit committee of Nova Ljubljanska Banka – NLB Bank in Kosovo. She was elected by the President of Kosovo to develop an NGO focused on the economic empowerment of Kosovo women where she serves as a vise president of the board. Ardiana holds a Masters Degree in Insurance Regulation and Accounting, “Pjeter Budi” college and Business Administration from the Economics School at the University of Pristina. She is also a member of INSOL Europe.

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Jehona Gjurgjeala

Vice-Chair of the Board

Jehona Gjurgjeala has extensive experience in strategy and execution in both profit and non-profit sectors. In her current role as Director of Account Management Customer Experience at Egencia (an Expedia Inc Company) she leads a number of large-scale commercial projects of high impact for the business globally. As Executive Director of Oxford Leadership Academy (OLA), Jehona was responsible for growing the consultancy and its network, including opening the Oxford office.

A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, Jehona has also extensive experience in the non-profit sector, in both research and grassroots projects. Her most prized work with OLA was collaborating with the Girls Scouts USA in developing a leadership program for young adults. Jehona’s research formed part of several papers published by the International Crisis Group, Kosova. She is also the author “How do women vote?” – a study of political awareness and participation of women in Kosova. She is a recipient of the prestigious British Council Chevening Scholarship.

Jehona is committed to finding the right formula that will combine the most valuable aspects of the profit-making sector and the non-profit sector – to provide sustainable benefit to people and the planet.

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Bekim Ahmetaj

Bekim Ahmetaj works as the Vice President at Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. in New York – a leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm that provides a wide range of financial services.

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Ilirjana Bajraktari

Ilirjana Bajraktari has extensive experience in health systems and policy development with health organizations at international level. Currently she is Director of Operations with American Hospital in Kosova where she leads range of projects and activities for optimization of processes within the AHK.

As Chair of Committee on Health with American Chamber of Commerce in Kosova, she is responsible for establishing and strengthening collaboration between private sector and governmental institutions in health sector aiming to improve current and develop new trends for sustainable development of health sector as well as improvement of citizen’s well-being.

A graduate from Dartmouth College and Tuck School of Business (USA), Ilirjana holds and MD/PhD degree from Medical University of Graz (Austria). She worked for several years with World Health Organization in the field of health systems and policy in limited resource settings. For more she was engaged with the range of organizations such as UNICEF, AIHA, World Bank for promoting health, quality of care and health as a human right activities. Her research is focused on maternal and child health, quality of care and medical decision making. Additionally she collaborated with IPPNW for promoting medical peace work and student’s exchange programs for the Western Balkans, as well as other civil society organizations for environmental health, corporate social responsibility and partnership building across sectors issues.

Ilirjana is passionate about strategies and concepts for improving health sector particularly for the benefits of mothers and children for achieving sustainable development of the societies.

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Ilir Hoxha

Ilir Hoxha is Medical Doctor, researcher and consultant from Kosovo. He holds a Medical Studies degree from University of Prishtina and Master of Science degree in Health Systems Management from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In addition, he has a record of research/academic experiences at New Bulgarian University, American University in Kosovo, Dartmouth Medical School, The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Karl Franzens University, Graz, Austria, and University of Bern where he is a PhD candidate since 2012.

In addition to work with a number of international organizations such as The World Bank, UNICEF, UNFPA, German Technical Cooperation, USAID in Kosovo, he has also been part of number of civil society initiatives in the country, among others, at the Institute for Advanced Studies GAP, Balkan Investigative and Reporting Network, Prishtina Institute for Political Studies, Kosovo Action Network and Center for Advanced Studies.

His professional and academic interests lie in: measurement of variation in provision of health care services; health economics and evaluation of health services (i.e. assessment of impact on health, cost effective analysis, assessment of coverage, quality and access); and, regulation of health care service delivery in public and private sector – in particular related to mother and child health.

In 2009 he was awarded Fulbright Research Fellowship for the research project that aimed to explore the prospects and limitations for using small area variation analysis methodology in evaluation of clinical practice performance in developing countries, using Kosovo as a case study. Since 2010 he has served as external adviser to Minister Bujar Bukoshi, Minister Ferid Agani at Ministry of Health of Republic of Kosovo. Today he works with for SOLIDAR Suisse as project advisor to the health dialogue program and acts as board member at the American University in Kosovo.

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Rexhep Hoxha

Rexhep Hoxha, PhD is the Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Prishtina. Rexhep received his PhD at the University of Prishtina in Pharmacological Analysis of Iris Inervation in 1997. He attended his master degree studies at the University of Zagreb with the thesis on the effect of venous tonus in hypertension.

He teached Pharmacology at the University of Prishtina, is the Dean of Pharmacology Unit at the Universtiy of Prishtina, and has an extensive experience in research field. Professor Rexhep served as Acting Chair of the Board at Action until September 2014.

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George Little

Dr. George Little is Professor of Pediatrics and of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the Dartmouth Medical School and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in the United States where he is neonatologist. He served for over a decade as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Maternal and Child Health at Dartmouth before it became separate departments of Pediatrics and Ob/Gyn.

In addition to clinical research, his interests have focused on perinatal health policy, systems development and regionalization, outcomes, reproductive and perinatal ethics, the family in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and international health. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and an Honorary Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). In addition to the AAP and ACOG he has been actively involved and served in leadership and consultative positions with a large number of organizations including NACHRI ( National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions), NPIC ( National Perinatal Information Center), AHA ( American Hospital Association ) and the MOD ( March of Dimes) as well as federal and state governmental agencies . He is a producer of Dreams and Dilemmas, an award winning cinema verite film focused on parental involvement in clinical decision making as well as other films. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed publications, monographs and chapters.

At the present time he is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) planning committee having been a founding HBB Co-Director and is a liaison to the Survive and Thrive GDA. He is also presently involved in improving pregnancy outcomes in Kosovo where he has served as an advisor to the Ministry of Health. He has served with a US Agency for International Development (USAID) Child Survival Project in Egypt and as a consultant to the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the United Arab Emirates University in Abu Dhabi. Early in his career he served as a Peace Corps staff physician in Nigeria and Malawi and then as the Regional Medical Officer for Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Pierre Weber

Pierre has pursued a career in international development and diplomacy, including positions at the UN, the EU and with the Foreign Service of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, in which quality he headed Luxembourg’s embassy to the young Republic of Kosovo for eight years. At the end of his mandate in Kosovo, Pierre has taken the rather unusual step of requesting a sabbatical from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to devote some time to a very profound passion: music, and to work as a composer, conductor and pianist.

Originally trained in conservatories in Luxembourg and France as classical concert pianist and composer, Pierre also studied law in Strasbourg, France, and later earned a master’s degree in social psychology at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium.

Pierre’s commitment to social progress, and particularly justice and the advancement of youth, constitutes a major part of his activities, with a very active involvement in the Ruhi Institute and the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Programme.

Pierre is married and lives with his wife Zarrin in Pristina.

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Valon Xharra

Valon Xharra is a Senior Vice President for the global risk management firm Gavin de Becker & Associates. Based in Los Angeles, Valon provides specialized crisis management consultation for Fortune 500 companies and advises them on how to manage political and operational risks.

Valon is passionate about entrepreneurship and is an investor and partner in several successful businesses spanning technology, real estate, fashion retail and luxury events management.

Valon served four years as a diplomatic analyst for the U.S. Department of State during the war in Kosovo, where he provided expertise in negotiations between the U.S. Government and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Valon earned a Master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and a MBA from Boston University.  He is a Fellow at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the Pacific Council on International Policy. He is an avid competitive runner and a passionate backer of women’s and children’s rights.

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Mark Kosmo

Mark is the chair of MAAS/BESA, and has been the co-chair since MAASBESA began in 2006.  He is currently the Chief Financial Officer of the Mentor Group in Boston.   He has lived in Albania working as an independent consultant, worked for the World Bank in Albania and Washington D.C. as an economist, and served as a Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College.  Mark is a past member of the Board of Trustees of the National Albanian-American Council, and is currently on the Board of Directors of Albanian-American Success Stories and the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Mark holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Wisconsin, and did his undergraduate degree in Economics and Mathematics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  Mark is also a member of Advisory Board of Germin working on Diaspora Engagement.